The Davis Cup tie being held indoors at Stade IGA in Montreal brings back memories of arguably the best, most dramatic Canadian team competition tie we’ve ever watched live.
That was nearly six years ago, when Canada hosted Ukraine in Fed Cup (now Billie Jean King Cup) in a tie that – if they lost it – would relegate them back to zonal competition.
It was, on paper, a tough ask for Canada, as Ukraine had No. 41 ranked Lesia Tsurenko and No. 78 Kateryna Bondarenko (Volodko), while Canada didn’t have anyone in the top 100 and had been handily dismissed (without Genie Bouchard) by Romania on the road in February.
For this tie, they had the Montrealer Bouchard, and they also had another local, Françoise Abanda, who was ranked close to her career high at No. 127 and generally played above that when she played at home.
Things started out as normal. But then, as Abanda was warming up for the opening rubber shortly before they were to take the court, she tripped and fell on the practice court and hit her head, bruising the orbital bone in her eye.
Open Court was the only media actually down there watching the warmup (I mean, hey, it was lunchtime), but it caused quite a kerfuffle.
Let’s remember that at the time, Andreescu was 17, ranked outside the top 200 and mostly playing $25,000 ITF events.
She hadn’t been expected to play at all. And we heard later that she’d just had a huge breakfast on site (even though you know anything can happen – so that definitely was an administrative fail). But she jumped in, taking the court against a tough, experienced opponent in Tsurenko.
And for awhile, it went pretty well. But then, blisters and severe cramps took over.
Here’s what that looked like.
Bouchard evens the tie
Following that drama, Bouchard took on Kateryna Bondarenko, who has had many lives as a tennis player (and two kids) and had been a top-10 player a decade before.
Bouchard spent the entire 2018 season, with the exception of the first week, outside the top 100 although she finished strongly in her final event of the season in Luxembourg to squeeze back in.
She was impressive in a 6-2, 7-5 win that evened the tie at 1-1.
Must-win for Bouchard
On Sunday, Bouchard was up first against Ukraine No. 1 Tsurenko.
And given the uncertainty of who might play the reverse No. 2 singles – with Abanda and Andreescu virtually certain not to play – it was a definite must-win. And Bouchard barely even played anyone in the top 50 the whole year.
It was an absolute marathon of a dogfight of a battle, with both players cramping, and fighting, and ice-bagging, and doubling over.
In the end, Bouchard won it in the third-set tiebreak.
Dabrowski steps in
It was a singles tie that could clinch Canada’s spot in World Group II, but they really didn’t have anyone to play it.
And so, Fed Cup stalward Gabriela Dabrowski stepped in.
It wasn’t really fair to her, as even though her singles ranking was still in the 360s, she had played just three matches all year – two of them in January, and the most recent a couple of weeks before outdoors on Har-Tru in Charleston. She wasn’t training in singles, and the previous singles matches had already demonstrated that the warm indoor conditions were a challenge.
But Dabrowski is a trouper. And she went out against Bondarenko and gave it everything, bowing out in three sets.
The Deciding Doubles
With the doubles being the fifth match in the format, it isn’t often the decider with so many ties clinched in three or four rubbers.
But this time, it was for everything. And along with the doubles specialist Dabrowski, then-captain Sylvain Bruneau had few options: injured (and possibly concussed) Abanda, cramped and blistered Andreescu, and completely spent Bouchard.
In the end, he went with Andreescu, whose calf was heavily wrapped and who clearly couldn’t move that well. But was game.
They played Bondarenko, who in addition to being a fine singles player also was a tremendous doubles player and Olga Savchuk, who was top 50 in doubles.
And they won, in three – thus staving off relegation and staying in Group II.
The place was rocking. Great weekend of tennis in Montreal.